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The Headmaster Ritual Paperback – July 9, 2007

3.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Political radicalism, boarding school cruelty and the specter of a showdown with a nuclear North Korea fuel Antrim's debut novel with mostly winning results. Fleeing job and girlfriend disasters, Dyer Martin takes a job as a history teacher at the tony Britton School, an Andover-like boarding school run by Headmaster Wolfe, a 1960s radical–turned– preppy–fundraiser whose paranoia is displayed early and often. Wolfe's son, James, meanwhile, has been quietly attending Britton, but after his father forces him to move into the student dorm for his senior year, his fellow students haze the brainy and socially awkward young man. While James negotiates the stormy waters of adolescence (the centerpiece is his crush on a girl who may be romantically involved with a bully), an increasingly erratic Wolfe orders Dyer to take a team of students to the Model U.N. conference as representatives of North Korea. Dyer, however, is suspicious of Wolfe's motives, especially after he sees Wolfe covertly meet in the middle of the night with a mysterious Asian man. All is revealed at the conference, though the climax is marred by a chain of events that defies reason. Well-drawn characters and tight dialogue add appeal to Antrim's keenly observed satire. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Set at an exclusive Massachusetts private school, this début novel addresses the angst—both teen-age and adult—that percolates on a prep-school campus. Dyer Martin, in crisis after a disastrous foray into real estate, has taken a position in the history department; one of his pupils, James, is the timid son of the formidable headmaster, once tenured at Harvard and now determined to shake up the conservative and complacent privilege of his new domain. James and Dyer, beset by the outrages of bullies and the bewildering behavior of women, triumph, inevitably, over both. Like Curtis Sittenfeld in her novel "Prep," Antrim dwells on the rituals of boarding-school life—the rigid hierarchies, the code of silence that allows hazing to flourish—but he does not entirely succeed in illuminating the resonance of all this for his characters’ interior lives
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First Edition edition (June 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618756825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618756827
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,269,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Its supposedly grand themes: absent fathers, making your way for yourself, gritty conflict (at personal and international levels), political ideology gone mad. True the book has these elements. I'm not sure I'd really call them themes since they pop in and out here and there as is convenient. They don't particularly parallel or reinforce each other into any particularly profound or coherent whole. They're just scattered about and the publisher's description wants us to think they're more meaningful than they are.

On the plus side the writing is often lively and with interesting details. The reading is detailed and somewhat addictive. The author succeeds in defining a mood for the boarding school, creating tension and making us want to find out what is going on.

I agree with other reviewers that the author is trying to portray a dark, supposedly "realistic" side to things that is supposed to be more profound than it actually is. This isn't Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies, though. The power struggles, the bungled sexual desires and conquests make me think it should've been headier than it actually turns out to be.

It's very detail-rich, which is good at times, but less good at other times. Details to give realism are nice, but the author sometimes gives names and large paragraphs to characters that are relatively to completely unimportant (and are never seen again in any meaningful ways). There are too many characters introduced within the first 100 pages with few cues about which will later turn out to be important and which unimportant.

The book is a nice effort. I wanted to find out what happened and continued reading. The book was enjoyable, though perhaps needed some tightening and finesse.

Oh, by the way, if you go in expecting a dark comedy you'll be disappointed. It's not so much comedic as dark.
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Format: Paperback
Quick plot summary: Fired from his sales job in LA, Dyer Martin heads east and lands a teaching position at a toney Philips Andover-like prep school where the story picks up. His universe becomes one of jocks & nerds. This age old precept carries the story with the bookish son of Headmaster Wolfe enduring teenage angst throughout the 300 pages. Professor Martin falls for a fellow faculty member, but she has some cloudy romantic past; the bookish son falls for pretty Jane, but Jane loves jocks. Angry Headmaster Wolfe, whose wife left him to go build nukes for the coming war on the Korean peninsula, is bent on his own secret mission of partnering with shady operatives from the Democratic People's Republic. Of Korea? Of Cambridge, MA? We can't be sure. The novel climaxes with the students participating in a model United Nations Conference in NYC. Sort of Jocks & Jills meet Guns & Butter.

Antrim is a good writer, and strings together very good descriptions of the prep school setting, homes in Boston & Knoxville, and especially New York City street scenes. But, A SEPARATE PEACE this is not. Similarly, anyone looking for a humorous read, (because it is promoted heavily by Christopher Buckley,) will be as disappointed as I.
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I don't understand the negativity here. This book has so much to offer, not only about boarding school life and styles, but the subject matter about North Korea - to me, and probably most readers, was most illuminating. A little sex and scandal thrown in made the pages turn that much faster. If there is a sequel in the offing, I'll be ready for it.
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Format: Paperback
I picked this up at the library and read it over 4 days. It's an entertaining story that alternates between a young teacher in a prep school and the son of the headmaster as they cope with the pressures of prep school life and of the radical headmaster. There's nothing particularly deep about it, but the writing is not bad and I had only good feelings about reading it. It's not really a 5 star book, but it's closer to 5 than 4 in my estimation, at least compared to most books I come across.

I don't really understand the negative reviews -- folks seem ticked off at how the book was marketed, which is really odd. (It isn't as though the author normally has any control over that.) The book certainly isn't in the same league as "A Separate Peace", but it's a good debut novel.
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I can't understand some of the negative reviews here. True, like many excellent novels, The Headmaster Ritual takes some time to get into. But once you do, the rewards are ample. Instead of exploring the potentially lurid social life of prep school students and teachers, Antrim opens a window into their inner-lives and humanity and the personal struggles that fuel their feelings. This is deftly wrapped into a somewhat zany Tom Wolfe-esque plot involving of all things--the international politics of North Korea. Antrim writes with subtlety and restraint, never reaching for too much in a scene. His characters and action are always believable, and he avoids the sensational and gratuitous. This is an ambitious novel written with a masterly touch. If you give it time, you'll come to know the characters with fullness and feel for them, and you won't want to put the book down.
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Format: Paperback
I've always appreciated well-written school stories so when I saw the dust jacket cover comments on this book, I was excited about this wonderful new writer. When I finally received the media-mailed book from an Amazon seller, I was immediately disappointed to meet its relatively unlikable protagonist in a story that was so tangential as to crush any serious drive the book had going for it. Knowing that my mood will occasionally clash with a good book, I put it down for a month. After picking it up again, I felt the same and still couldn't climb in. I'm not a reviewer, but am an avid reader of fiction and historical non-fiction. I believe that my views on this will coincide with other 30-somethings who went through prep school in New England. By the way, the artwork on the cover is lop-sided as was, in my view, the pre-publication bull**** that raved about this book. I'll rarely trust a dust jacket again.
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